Just before 6:00PM on Thursday, Nov. 6, 1986, an employee at the Dollar General Discount Store in Palm Springs Mall told a customer to flag down a policeman as two customers in the store were acting suspiciously and employees feared that a robbery was imminent. One employee observed that one of the men had what appeared to be a machine gun in a tote bag. Witnesses said one man stood in the baby goods department 'looking mean,' while the other hung around the stockroom and tried to plug in a cash register only to find that 'it wouldn't open without keys.' Hialeah motorcycle officers Emilio Miyares and Felix Quintela were working traffic in front of the mall when they were flagged down and told of the potential problem. Officers Miyares and Quintela 'roared up' on their motorcycles to the Dollar General Store to check out the 'complaint that two suspicious men were lurking in the aisles' of the store.
However, by the time the two officers entered the store the two suspicious men had left and so the officers began a search of the mall for the two men. The two suspects were spotted at the rear of the mall adjacent to the Dollar Discount Store. The two officers approached the two suspects and began to question them.
One suspect, later identified as Samuel Rivera, 22, suddenly broke and ran with the tote bag into the mall. Officer Miyares ran after him. The second suspect, Alberto Rivera (Samuel's brother), then fled and was chased by Officer Quintela.
The chase of Samuel Rivera by Officer Miyares ended when Rivera ran into a dead end (a locked door) at one end of the mall 'in a walkway between a vacant store and the clothing store Almacenes Diaz'". In front of 20-30 witnesses, Miyares approached Rivera (with his gun holstered) and grabbed him in a 'bear hug' telling him to calm down. During the struggle with Officer Miyares, Samuel Rivera, at 5'3" and 130 lbs., took the Officer's .38-caliber service revolver from his swivel holster and the two fell to the mall floor as they struggled over the weapon. Rivera gained control of the Officer's gun and got up as Miyares was still on his knees with his hands in the air saying "Esperate, Esperate" (i.e., 'wait! wait!).
But Rivera did not wait as he fired five shots at the kneeling and defenseless Miyares. 'Two shots went wild. Three hit the policeman.' The third and fatal shot that hit Miyares went through his chest and 'through his heart' and was fired after the Officer was lying flat on the floor, defenseless. It was later described as an 'execution' shot.
Panic spread among the witnesses as one bullet shattered a plate glass window of the clothing store. "'Shoppers ducked and merchants ran to close their sliding glass doors.' Witnesses 'watched the man trot away from the fallen Miyares, the policeman's revolver still in his left hand.' He had left the tote bag with the KG9 machine gun behind in his rush to escape.
Officer Lee Suarez, who was working an extra-duty job in the mall, was the first officer to reach the fatally wounded Miyares. He used his radio to notify the dispatcher ('officer down'). Officer Quintela broke off his chase of Alberto Rivera when he heard the sound of gunfire from the direction of the chase by his fellow officer. When he arrived on the scene of the shooting he found Miyares being attended by Officer Suarez. Miyares was lying on the mall floor bleeding profusely. He was still conscious and appeared to realize he was dying as he said, 'Oh my God. Get me a chaplain.' Fire rescue arrived within minutes and Miyares was transported to Hialeah Hospital (5 minutes away). He had been shot less than a mile from where he and his wife had grown up. Miyares was unconscious by the time he arrived at Hialeah Hospital. The emergency room doctors opened up his chest and tried to massage his heart but were unsuccessful in reviving him. Miyares died within minutes of his arrival.
After fatally shooting Officer Miyares, Samuel Rivera fled northward out of the mall and, at gunpoint, accosted a woman in the parking lot, yanking her out of her 1980 blue Oldsmobile Cutlass. A backup officer, Rudy Toth, arrived on the scene and saw Samuel Rivera in the stolen Oldsmobile and began to chase him. Toth alerted other officers and Rivera then led police from Hialeah, Metro-Dade and Opa-locka on a car chase through Hialeah.
Rivera first fled eastward on West 49th Street and began firing the .38 revolver at the pursuing officers. He turned south on Palm Ave. for four blocks and then east on East 45th Street. After traveling three blocks on East 45th Street Rivera crashed the stolen Oldsmobile into a parked Mercury Marquis near East Fifth Ave. and East 45 Street.
Rivera then abandoned the wrecked Oldsmobile and fled on foot with several police officers in pursuit. Off-duty Officer Michael de Jesus, leading the pursuit, ordered the suspect to stop and shot at him three times but he kept running and jumped a fence. Police then sealed the area off and sent in a trained police dog to find the suspect. The dog found Rivera hiding under some patio furniture in a back yard. He was arrested and taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital for bite wounds from the dog and for injuries from the car crash.
Samuel Rivera was charged with first degree murder, two counts of armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was denied bond. Rivera went to trial for the charges on June 26, 1987 (8 months after the shooting). He was defended by Ron Guralnick while assistant state attorneys Malcolm Purow and Gary Rosenberg represented the state before Judge Martin Greenbaum.
Guralnick argued that Rivera shot Officer Miyares in self-defense as he feared for his life after Miyares allegedly hit him on the head with his service revolver and then pointed the gun at him. Guralnick claimed that the blow on the head 'was almost a mortal blow...the officer was really pumped up. This boy reasonably believed he was going to be killed, so what does he do? He wrestled with the officer's gun, believing his life is in danger....(Rivera) fired several shots at the officer...This was a justifiable homicide.' (Miami Herald, 6271987)
Rivera took the stand in his own defense to try to convince the jury that he had reason to fear for his life in his struggle with Miyares. However, the Rivera defense failed when the state produced four eye-witnesses from the mall who testified that Miyares never hit Rivera on the head and that Rivera had no reason to feel threatened. In fact, the witnesses testified that Officer Miyares was 'very polite, actually nice. He told him to calm down, to relax.'
The witness description of the treatment of Rivera by Miyares confirmed the description of Miyares as the 'epitome of courtesy' and as an officer hesitant to use deadly force. Miyares was apparently overpowered when he was too hesitant to draw and fire his weapon at a fleeing suspect whom he did not know was a career criminal.
Prosecutors emphasized the execution style shooting of Miyares as Rivera fired three shots into the officer who had given him a break (by not shooting him) and was on his knees with his hands up when he was shot two times. A third shot was fired by Rivera into the center of Miyares chest after the officer had fallen from his knees to the mall floor and was totally helpless and non-threatening.
On July 7, 1987, after a 7-day trial, Samuel Rivera was convicted of first degree murder and six weapons, burglary and robbery charges. On July 9 the jury, by a 7-5 vote, recommended that Rivera be given the death penalty apparently agreeing with prosecutor Purow that 'if ever a case screamed out in justice for the death penalty, it's this case.' Defense attorney Guralnick had argued: 'This is a poor man from a poor Puerto Rica family....with a better education, better breaks in life like you and I have had, perhaps he wouldn't have wound up like this.' Citing the Bible and the words of Jesus on the cross, Guralnick said, 'I ask you to forgive this boy.' (Miami Herald, 7101987) Chaplain Julio Da Silva, the Baptist chaplain who saw Miyares at Hialeah Hospital moments before he died, disagreed with Guralnick as he told reporters after the sentencing hearing, 'I don't rejoice in the death of the wicked...but Jesus also said that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.'
Judge Greenbaum followed the recommendation of the jury and on July 14, 1987, sentenced Samuel Rivera to death. He also sentenced Rivera to 301 years, to run consecutively to the death sentence, on the other charges. It was the first death sentence the judge had imposed in his three years on the bench as he told Rivera that he was an 'urban terrorist' and that the murder of Miyares was 'an amoral predatory act debased in nature, cold and calculated.' About 80 people, many of them Hialeah police officers and friends and family of Miyares jammed the courtroom for the sentencing. Rivera's mother and father also attended the sentencing.
On Oct. 28, 1993, the Florida Supreme overturned the death sentence (but not the conviction) of Samuel Rivera. The Court ruling said that the prosecution focused on Rivera's criminal record at the sentencing hearing, especially his conviction in Puerto Rico three years earlier for attacking a police officer with a knife.
The Court noted that the jury was not aware that the offense was a misdemeanor, not a felony. Also, after Rivera's conviction in Miami for killing Miyares, the Puerto Rico conviction was set aside. Evidence had come to light that the police officer was lying about the event, that the officer had in fact attacked Rivera, and that the officer was disciplined.
Rivera had claimed in his Miami trial for murder that he had killed Officer Miyares in self-defense and that he 'experienced a flashback to the attack in Puerto Rico.' Rivera's attorneys asked for a rehearing of the Supreme Court ruling (since the conviction was upheld) but the Court refused and issued the same ruling on Jan. 13, 1994.
Rivera was awaiting a re-sentencing before a new judge and jury when he was found dead hanging in his prison cell at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, FL, at 4:05A.M. on April 21, 1994. His death was ruled a suicide.